Thousands of U.S. college students study abroad each year, but where should you go? Here are the 12 best countries to study abroad and why.

The 12 Best Countries to Study Abroad

It might sound cliche, but studying abroad can truly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The opportunity to pursue your academics in a foreign country allows you to not only travel, but also live as a local and immerse yourself in a new culture. Plus, studying abroad is the best way to learn a foreign language.

Many students set their sights on an international college experience, but it can be difficult to figure out where to study abroad. Maybe you've considered studying in popular countries like Italy, France, or Spain. But have you ever thought about heading to a less commonly chosen study abroad destination, such as Hungary, Jordan, or South Africa?

In this guide, we introduce the best countries where you can study off the beaten path, as well as a few more popular countries with exceptional educational opportunities.

Note: Due to COVID-19 and ongoing pandemic-related travel restrictions, many study abroad programs have been canceled or pushed back. Even if you're not sure when you'll be able to study abroad, it's never too early to start thinking about potential destinations.

The Top 12 Countries to Study Abroad

1. Costa Rica

For students hoping to practice their Spanish in a gorgeous setting, Costa Rica may live up to their expectations. The lush vegetation, tropical climate, and fascinating wildlife (think sloths and monkeys) continually tempt tourists and students alike. Learners can find Spanish-language programs in Costa Rica, in addition to opportunities to study the environment, conservation, biology, and sustainability.

The Central American country also offers plenty of attractions for adrenaline junkies. Students can spend their weekends white-water rafting, ziplining, snorkeling, scuba diving, and exploring volcanoes and tropical rainforests.

2. Thailand

Thailand's natural beauty, rich culture, and delicious cuisine landed the country a spot in the World Tourism Organization's 2019 list of the most popular countries for tourism. College students, too, should take note and consider Thailand for their foreign education experience.

The Southeast Asian country is home to a variety of study abroad programs in fields like public health, sustainable development, wildlife conservation, and veterinary science. American students can find many of these programs offered in English, but some may choose to enroll in Thai-language classes as well.

Although a plane ticket to Thailand might come with a hefty price tag, the cost of living there for foreigners remains relatively affordable.

3. Germany

Looking for a country that won't burn too deep a hole in your pocket? Then consider Germany. Universities here either charge cheaper tuition fees or no tuition at all. Additionally, many German institutions rank highly on the annual World University Rankings list.

While the cost of living in Germany isn't quite as low as it is in Eastern Europe, several of its cities are fairly affordable in terms of their cost of living. Cities like Dresden and Berlin are relatively inexpensive and offer students the opportunity to experience a thriving culture.

Germany's central location also makes it easy to travel around to different European countries.

4. United Kingdom

As the most popular study abroad destination for American students, the UK isn't a surprising or unusual place to go. Nevertheless, it deserves a place on our list. This is because the UK contains top-ranked universities like Cambridge and Oxford in England, and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. If you're hoping for a truly world-class education, look to the UK.

Of course, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all offer numerous options aside from these world-renowned institutions. Just keep in mind that the UK is a bit pricier than other locations, especially if you choose to study in London.

5. South Africa

Only 30 years ago, the notion of studying abroad in South Africa didn't really cross American college students' minds. Back then, the country was in the midst of deadly demonstrations against aparatheid. Today, however, South Africa boasts decades of stability and is the most popular African country for American students to study abroad.

Learners can find programs in subjects like conservation and business. Because of South Africa's tumultuous political history, the country also offers programs with a unique perspective on human rights and social change.

6. Norway

Norway might not seem like an obvious choice for studying abroad; after all, not many American learners study the Norwegian language. But the country's got a huge advantage over others: All of its public universities are free, no matter where you hail from.

Keep in mind that the cost of living in Norway is significantly higher than it is in other European countries — but free college could certainly make up for that.

On top of its quality educational offerings, Norway is filled with sweeping landscapes that'll take your breath away, including fjords and mountains unlike any others in the world. Just be sure you're comfortable in the cold — winter temperatures easily dip below zero here.

7. Jordan

If you want to study in the Middle East, go to Jordan. It's among the safest countries in the region and a great place to learn Arabic. Students pursuing degrees in ancient history, religion, or geopolitics in the Middle East can find several study abroad programs here.

Amman — the capital city, with over 4 million residents — houses several Roman ruins. Most of Jordan's study abroad programs are based in Amman, but students can travel around to see famous sites like the ancient city of Petra and the Dead Sea.

8. Hungary

Most students who study abroad in Hungary attend a school in Budapest, a city cut in two by the mighty Danube River. Institutions like Eötvös Loránd University and Corvinus University offer English-language programs, and tuition is comparatively cheaper than it is at U.S. universities.

International students can enter programs centering on business, medicine, and veterinary science. Hungarian is a tough language to learn, but fortunately most people living in the capital speak English.

What's more, Hungary appeals to many people for its low cost of living. This makes Budapest a great base from which to explore the rest of Europe.

9. Switzerland

For a relatively small country of only about 8.5 million people, Switzerland is home to several top-ranked universities, including ETH Zurich, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and the Universities of Zurich and Basel. The natural landscape of Switzerland comes with its own appeal; students can dedicate their free time to hiking and skiing in the Alps.

The only downside? Switzerland ranks as one of the most expensive countries in the world.

10. Brazil

The largest country in South America, Brazil offers plenty of study abroad options. Students can live and study in famous cities like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador. Many instructors teach classes in English, and some of the most popular fields include geography, politics, public health, business, and international development.

Learners interested in nature and conservation can also find academic programs that take them to the Amazon rainforest, an ecosystem filled with unique flora and fauna.

11. Canada

While many French-language students choose to study abroad in France, those on a tighter budget can instead find plenty of options in nearby Canada. Consider programs in Quebec and New Brunswick, where many local residents speak French.

Students can also enroll in English-language programs. Many Americans opt to earn their college degree entirely at a Canadian university. This isn't surprising considering Canada's lower tuition costs and its highly ranked schools, such as the Universities of Toronto and British Columbia.

12. Japan

Japan offers a completely different way of life than the U.S., which appeals to tons of students. Japanese-language learners will benefit from the country's esteemed language schools, while STEM majors will enjoy the country's top courses in math, science, and technology. Students can also find English-language programs in fields like business, art, and even culinary science.

Although many learners choose programs in Tokyo, they can discover the beauty of Japanese architecture and culture through programs all over the country, including in cities like Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Sapporo.

A young woman donning a pink and purple headscarf and a black backpack stands in the middle of a city, holding a cell phone in one hand and clutching a suitcase with the other.
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Decide Where to Study Abroad — Then Get Packing

If you felt totally clueless at the start of this post, hopefully you now have a list of ideas of where you can study abroad. Remember to consider factors like cost and whether you want to take classes in English or a different language. You can also find plenty of information about the nuts and bolts of how to study abroad with a bit of research.

Once you choose a country and a study abroad program, all that's left to do is apply for the program, buy a plane ticket, and pack your things.


Feature Image: andresr / E+ / Getty Images